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Snow in southwest Colorado great for snowriders, tough on residents

Lisa Ryckman
Rocky Mountain News/AP
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bill Cook shovels off the roof of his home on Monday, Feb. 4, 2008, in Hermosa north of Durango Colo., after nearly two feet snow fell in the area.(AP Photo/The Durango Herald,Jerry McBride)
AP | THE DURANGO HERALD

DURANGO, Colo. ” In Durango, they’ve plowed, pushed and piled up so much snow, they’re actually running out of places to put it.

In the past two weeks, crews working around the clock have hauled more than 1,400 dump-truck loads of the white stuff to a nearby park, but even those 17 acres have become packed and stacked to the max.

“If it goes much higher,” said Assistant City Manager Greg Caton, “we can sell lift tickets and call it our ski hill.”

Across southern Colorado, what was predicted to be a relatively dry season has turned into the wildest, whitest winter in memory, a skier’s and boarder’s bonanza and a pain in the tush for anybody trying to get anywhere except up on the mountain.

Streets have turned into tunnels rimmed by claustrophobic white walls, and buried cars have become de facto sledding hills.

Anybody in the market for a snow blower can forget it. They’re sold out for the season.

“It’s hard to get around town at times,” said Telluride Intermediate School principal Steve Smith, who moved to the area from Alaska. “Out of the fire into the frying pan.”

There has been so much snow that the Telluride school district recently did something it hasn’t done for at least 15 years: It closed for a snow day. It’s more accurate to call it a “powder day,” locals say, because everybody went skiing.

At the Wolf Creek ski area, about 60 miles east of Durango, the summit base depth is a stunning 199 inches. Snowfall so far this year: 434 inches.

Folks who live in this region expect snow and know how to deal with it, so it takes a lot to faze them.

And a lot is what they got: nearly 2 feet of snow in a 24-hour period in Durango that began on Super Bowl Sunday, said meteorologist Jim Pringle, of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“I’ve never seen a storm like this,” said Linda Mannix, who has lived in the Durango area for 32 years. She spent Thursday shoveling the snow off her roof, a precaution against collapses and mini-avalanches.

“What about global warming? They had forecast it was going to be a dry year and then a little snow and then, whammo! We knew it was coming,” she said.

“We just didn’t think it would come quite as big as it did.”

That load of white stuff fell on top of December’s 10 inches and January’s 39 inches. Already this year, Durango probably has surpassed its annual average snowfall of about 61 inches, Pringle said.

“Normally, we have a sane amount of snow,” said Andy White, assistant director at the Durango Public Library. He puts this in context: From his window, he can just barely see the top of an SUV parked in the lot.

The storm on Sunday and Monday was the last straw in a month of snow, Caton said, and shut down the city for a day, with many businesses closing because of winter weather for the first time. “Gone skiing,” read the sign in one window.

“We’ve been having free parking at parking meters because, frankly, it’s a challenge for anybody to get to the meters; there’s so much snow,” he said.

By Tuesday, most businesses were back up and running, but the process of digging out was taking longer than people were used to. The city instituted a new, oxymoronic Snow Hotline to issue updates and field complaints and within a day had nearly 50 calls, Caton said.

Many of the residents phoned in the same gripe: Plows were pushing the snow out of the roads and into their recently shoveled driveways, which meant they had to dig out again – if they could figure out where to put the additional snow.

“We’ve got 5-foot berms, and you literally have to shovel it and toss it straight up and over,” said Sherri Dugdale, a city special projects coordinator who lives near Mancos.

The last storm came on the final day of Durango’s 30th annual Snowdown festival, a week’s worth of winter wackiness that includes, among other things, a joke contest, a dodgeball tournament, a spelling bee and the launching of stuffed “sock” kittens from homemade catapults. The parade alone drew 10,000 people.

But the cross-country ski race, scheduled for last Sunday, had to be canceled because of snow, Mannix said. “People couldn’t get to it.”

The snow has brought out the best in residents, with neighbors digging out neighbors and picking up groceries for each other in town, Dugdale said. And there are many locals who couldn’t be happier with the whole situation. Snowboarder Brian Russell, who works at Magpie’s Newsstand Cafe on Main Street when he’s not up on the mountain, can sum up his feelings about the weather in three words: “I love it.”

Outsiders who think all this snow has somehow crippled the local economy couldn’t be more wrong, said Anne Barney, who does marketing for the Durango Tourism Office.

“It’s been a real plus. The resort is doing great. It’s a real winter,” Barney said.

At Abode at Willowtail Springs, a bed and breakfast outside of Mancos, office manager Patricia Burget said she’d rather have gobs of snow than the subzero temperatures they suffered through before the last storm, even though it knocked out their Internet for three days.

She’s got her eye on the bigger picture.

“We’ve been in a drought,” Burget said. “Snow means water.”


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